Editorial: It’s working so, hey, let’s break it

The South African Revenue Service. (Gallo)

The South African Revenue Service. (Gallo)

As if he didn’t have enough on his plate, what with a sagging economy and his budget speech next week, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan is facing a revolt at the South African Revenue Service (Sars).

  As we report in this week’s edition, the regime change that took place at Sars while Gordhan was in another portfolio is beginning to look very much as though it has generated more, not less, division and disorder in the state’s revenue-collection outfit.

Tom Moyane, the new commissioner, is pushing ahead with a restructuring exercise that Gordhan specifically asked him to delay until the minister had assessed it. For one thing, Moyane’s restructuring seemed to be a purge of highly placed Sars officials seen as Gordhan’s agents.

For another, according to claims made this week, it is a move to gain direct control over one of Sars’s most important units – the one that deals with the really big corporate and individual taxpayers. It’s the unit responsible for more than a third of Sars’s annual haul, and is vulnerable to potential abuse if it falls into the wrong hands.

If it’s not broke, why fix it? Or, to put it another way, if it’s working, why break it?

The same question was asked about the Scorpions when it was decided to shut that crime-fighting unit down.

The answer, there, was that the Scorpions were working all too well: they had found evidence of wrongdoing on the part of individuals either in top political positions or on their way there, and they were willing to move ahead with charges and, if necessary, arrests. Jacob Zuma was one of those individuals, and his faction’s push to kill off the Scorpions, as Zuma rose to power, was obviously related to the fact that he needed further protection (and possibly wanted revenge).

Similar things happened at the National Prosecuting Authority, which has had so many changes at the top and suffered so much infighting that it is basically paralysed as a law-enforcement agency (though, as we also report in this week’s edition, that hasn’t stopped it pursuing various vindictive, clearly political and probably unwinnable cases). Just as the NPA looked as though it might be working, someone was sent in to break it.

If that pattern is now being played out, once more, at Sars, we should all be deeply worried.

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